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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Thailand prepares for violence ahead of verdict on Thaksin Shinawatra assets

Thousands of police and soldiers were out on the streets of Bangkok today in a show of strength ahead of the much anticipated verdict on the $2.2 billion fortune of ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Prime Minister of Thailand called for calm, Supreme Court judges were assigned guards and foreign embassies issued travel warnings as fears grew of a violent backlash if the assets of the opposition leader-in-exile are frozen on Friday.

Mr Thaksin's supporters, the "Red Shirts", have said they will hold mass protests if the court doe not rule in Mr Thaksin's favour, but insist that any action will be non-violent.

"We will wait and see what the court says, but any injustice will bring about a phenomenon," Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan said. The government "underestimates the Red Shirts", he added.

Mr Abhisit said a judicial review should be treated with respect or the on-going conflict between the opposing political factions would never come to an end.

However his government has been accused of stoking anxieties by casting the Red Shirts as a dangerous force in a bid to take the focus off the fragile governing coalition.

At least 20,000 extra security personnel have been deployed across Bangkok and pro-Thaksin regions, including around the homes of judges, politicians and government and commercial institutions.

Last week a bomb was defused near the Supreme Court and a grenade exploded at government offices, prompting the United States, Britain and Australia to warn people visiting Bangkok to exercise caution.

The government has announced it will cede control of security to the army and even declare an emergency if necessary, but says it hopes to control the situation.

"We hope that the security measures that we have put in place can handle the instability or incidents that can cause violence," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

An intelligence expert and political observer said the Red Shirts were unlikely to instigate violence even if a court ruling did not favour Mr Thaksin.

Phummarat Thaksadipong, former director of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), said that a strong alliance between the government and the military was enough to keep pro-Thaksin elements at bay.

"Even if the court rules to seize all the assets, the red shirt group will not incite violence," Mr Phummarat told the Bangkok Post newspaper."They are aware those who start it will lose and they are afraid of being jailed," he said.

Since the coup in 2006 Thailand has been torn by frequently violent demonstrations by his supporters and the “Yellow Shirts” who oppose him in the name of King Bhumibol.

Late in 2008, the Yellow Shirts forced the closure of Bangkok's airports after months of sometimes violent rallies in an attempt to bring down the then government, which stood accused of being nothing more than a proxy for Mr Thaksin, who was sentenced in absentia to two years in jail for corruption

Protests by the "Red Shirts" against Mr Vejjajiva's government have had less impact, but last April 100,000 demonstratos forced the early end to a pan-Asian summit..

The threat they pose could, however, have been overblown for political gain, said Michael Montesano, an expert on Thai politics at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

"The fact that they need to put in place these measures today is a reminder of how little progress the Abhisit government has made since coming to power in changing the political landscape," he said. "I think a lot of it's propaganda."

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'Arts of Ancient Viet Nam' or Stealing, really?

Garuda with Naga Champa period late 12th-13th Century. Thap Mam site, Binh Dinh province stone. (National Museum of Vietnamese History)

The expansive exhibition of artifacts from the land's historical cultures is on view at the Asia Society in New York.

By Louise Roug

Reporting from New York - "Arts of Ancient Viet Nam," the most ambitious exhibition of Vietnamese art yet to appear in the United States, is a show about meetings.

In room after room, magnificent objects on display tell a story about people -- how we encounter one another and change in the process.

That such meetings are sometimes bloody was an inescapable issue for the organizers of the show, on view at the Asia Society in New York.

For decades, Vietnam existed in the American mind not so much as a geographical place with its own history but rather, singularly, as a synonym for conflict.

And it was this association -- as Asia Society Director Vishakha Desai put it: "that Vietnam means war" -- that organizers wanted to challenge. "We wanted to create a new story," Desai said. Given the interwoven history of America and Vietnam, it is a point delicately made.

For one thing, Nancy Tingley, the show's heroically stubborn curator who worked more than 20 years to realize "Arts of Ancient Viet Nam," has mounted an exhibition that looks at a time well before the Battle of Hue, the massacre at My Lai and the fall of Saigon. This is a historical show that examines another kind of meeting between people: one built on trade and commerce.

One reason it took so long for the exhibition to be realized was that before 2003 Vietnam didn't have a law that would allow for the lending of museum objects. But the Vietnamese government eventually threw its support behind the exhibition and 10 museums in Vietnam have contributed objects, including the Museum of Vietnamese History in Ho Chi Minh City.

Another obstacle was the lack of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the United States until 1995. "Politics got in the way for some years, but we've gotten beyond that," said Tingley, based in Northern California.

Although she acknowledges the initial difficulty of realizing the project, Tingley is less interested in making overt political statements and more engaged with the question of what these beautifully crafted objects can tell us about the various peoples who lived between the first millennium BC and the 18th century in what is now Vietnam.

"Trade is a lens through which to look at the cultures," Tingley said, adding that as art and objects spread through trade so do ideas.

Or as the general director of the Department of Cultural Heritage in Vietnam, Dang Van Bai, puts it in a foreword to the catalog: "Arts and culture have always provided a bridge to mutual understanding among the peoples of the world."

With economic assistance from other countries, notably France, which has its own history in the region, Vietnam continues to improve the state of its museums, Tingley said.

The show, which runs through May 2, is remarkable for its scale, scope and beauty. The more than 100 objects, which have never appeared together before in an exhibit (not even in Vietnam), span almost 2,000 years. Because the exhibit spans such a wide period and includes different cultures, it is hard to point to a defining Vietnamese aesthetic. Rather, each of the four cultures on display have borrowed iconography and expressions from different parts of the world.

Organized chronologically, the show begins with two contemporary early cultures, the Dong Son and the Sa Huynh, who lived, respectively, in the north and the central-south part of the country until the 2nd century AD.

Like many cultures that appear to us centuries after their demise, the Sa Huynh are best viewed through their burial objects -- in this case, large, upright clay jars that held the dead along with offerings such as weapons and pottery -- and objects such as Chinese mirrors found at Sa Huynh sites suggest that the culture was a center for trade and exchange.

The most impressive remnants from the Dong Son culture are the large bronze drums on display, intricately patterned with abstract bands and images of people, which, along with chicken-headed ceramics, reveal a strong Chinese influence.

The next room reveals a different people -- the Fu Nan, a civilization of city-states that existed in the Mekong Delta from the 1st to the 5th century AD.; to provide historical context, Fu Nan gold jewelry is presented alongside contemporaneous imported objects from Rome, China and India.

The Fu Nan and their trading partners had rich opportunities to exchange ideas and expressions because the monsoon winds kept the traders in foreign ports for four to six months at a time. But little is known about the Fu Nan people except that they were impressive seafarers who built 200-foot-long ships that had an ability to carry up to 700 people and could be used to export not just goods but also live rhinos and elephants.

Moving on, a visitor encounters an almost life-size wooden Buddha -- an incredible artifact, not just for its slender, Giacometti-like beauty but for the simple fact that this wooden statue dates from the 6th century, having survived almost intact -- and half-smiling -- in the bog of the Mekong Delta.

The Buddha's right hand is raised in abhaya mudra, symbolizing peace, and the belly shows a slight bulge, indicating the intake of breath, prana -- gestures that suggest the creator of the Buddha had been exposed to Indian Gupta sculpture.

A wide-eyed demon in a stone frieze on display in another room shows how the people who lived between the 5th and the 15th century in the coastal kingdoms of Champa, near Hoi An, were also influenced by Indian aesthetics. Early Cham inscriptions were done in Sanskrit, and awe-inspiring stone sculptures of the Hindu god Shiva also reveal the Indian influence. (During another encounter between cultures much later, U.S. bombers destroyed a significant Cham site at My Son.)

The final part of the show looks at trade and exchange in the period between the 16th and the 18th century in the port city of Hoi An, about 20 miles from Danang. Chinese porcelain, Japanese silver, cinnamon and gold were among the wares that were traded at Hoi An, and luxury goods that have later been found attest to the continued connection to China and India as well as the Middle East.

Most of the pieces in this part of the show come from the Cu Lao Cham shipwreck, discovered during the 1990s. Tingley speculates that at least part of the ship's cargo was destined for a Vietnamese man living in an Islamic country somewhere in Southeast Asia, so that he might have not only the kinds of ceramic that reminded him of his home but also something that fit his new culture.

Carbon dating suggests that the ship went down in the 15th century, and the remains of fruit found aboard suggest that it had set sail in late fall. The lateness of the expedition meant that the sailors likely encountered rough weather, possibly causing the ship to go down.
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Pan Pacific group raising cash

By Caryn KunzAdvertiser Staff Writer

After 82 years of helping women and children in the Pacific, the Pan Pacific and Southeast Asia Women's Association will hold its first fundraiser next month.

The March 26 event, called Golf for a Child, will help raise money to build a school in rural Cambodia and provide continued support for local organizations such as the Susannah Wesley Community Center.

Founded in Honolulu, the association held its first conference in 1928 with delegates from 11 Pacific and Asian nations. Today, the organization includes 22 chapters dedicated to improving the lives of women and children from Sāmoa to Singapore.

"The basis of the club is still women helping women and children. I know today there are so many organizations that do this, but in 1928 there weren't," said the association's Hawai'i president, Mary Tori Keegan. "This was the first women's organization in the islands."

Keegan said that throughout the history of the group in Hawai'i, money for any cause the group supported came directly from member donations.

"The original members were all very wealthy women who were also very educated. Whenever they wanted to help a cause, they just wrote a check," Keegan said. "They never had to bother with fundraisers. Nowadays, we live in different times. This is the first big fundraiser that we're trying."

Golf for a Child Chairwoman Asipau Pamela Plouffe says the tournament has the potential to expand the association's outreach efforts as it becomes established.

"There is a need for education, not only in Cambodia but throughout the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, and we can be a vehicle for that good cause," she said. "It's something that we can look forward to annually. We also want to expand to other local causes as we establish ourselves and more funds come in."

The association's Hawai'i chapter supports Susannah Wesley Community Center's C-BASE high school diploma program, an alternative education program for youth ages 16 to 23.

"They've practically adopted those kids," said Ronald Higashi, the center's executive director. "They've always been at the graduations that we have here at the center. They even purchase the gowns."

Higashi said that in addition to C-BASE, the Hawai'i chapter also helps fund smaller projects throughout the year and often provides youths with extra necessities.

"I can't say enough about them," he said. "They're always there when we need them."

In May, the association will hold its international conference in Bali, Indonesia. After the conference, Keegan, Plouffe and association delegates from Hawai'i will travel to Cambodia to dedicate their school.

"We've gotten so many new members in the last several years, and they are terrific members that are willing to move in a little bit different direction," Keegan said. "It's a direction that we need now, today. I'm excited about it."

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North Korean agency reports leader's birthday celebrated

Feb 21, 2010 (BBC Monitoring via COMTEX) -- Pyongyang, February 21 (KCNA) - Meetings, film shows and book and photo exhibitions were held in Laos, Cambodia, Romania and Kyrgyzstan between Feb. 9 and 11 on the occasion of leader Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il]'s birthday.

On display at the venues were his works and photos on his undying feats and books and photos of the Korean people's struggle for the building of a great prosperous and powerful nation and national reunification.

Speeches were made at the meetings.

The director of the School of Politics and Theory of the Ministry of the Public Security of Laos said that the Korean people have achieved great successes in defending the country, building socialism and improving the people's standard of living under the wise leadership of Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il], adding that this serves as precious experience for the Lao people.

The chairman of the External Relations Commission of the People's Party of Cambodia noted that the friendly and cooperative relations between his party and the Korean Workers' Party are favourably developing day by day. The Cambodian people wish the Korean people greater successes in their efforts to build a thriving nation and achieve national reunification, he said.

The chairman of the Romania?Korea Friendship Association said that Kim Jong Il pursued songun [military-first] politics with the insight into the importance of army in carrying out the cause of independence, thereby developing the Korean People's Army into an invincible army, building a self-reliant defence industry and bringing about a great turning point in the building of a thriving nation with the efforts of all the people.

The chairman of the Central Council of the People Unity?"Kyrgys El" Republican Political Party said that the Korean people will surely build a great prosperous and powerful nation thanks to the songun [military-first] leadership of Kim Jong Il.

The participants of the film shows watched the Korean films "Fireworks for a Thriving Nation" and "Korean People's Army, Steel-Strong Ranks."

A message of greetings to Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il] was adopted at the event in Romania.

Source: KCNA website, Pyongyang, in English 0336 gmt 21 Feb 10

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